A newly-discovered gas giant is the biggest two-sun planet ever found, a study set to be published in The Astrophysical Journal reports.
The behemoth — known as Kepler-1647b — is a gas giant roughly the same size and mass as Jupiter that sits 3,700 light years away from Earth. Its two parent stars are roughly the same size of the sun — one being a bit bigger and one a bit smaller — and both are around 4.4 billion years old.
Not only is it the largest two-star planet ever discovered, it has the widest orbit ever recorded. The celestial body takes nearly 1,107 days to circle around its host stars.
Another reason the planet is of interest is that it sits inside of its star’s ‘habitable zone,’ the distance from the host star where liquid water can exist. Kepler-1647b, being made of gas, has no solid surface. However, its moons could be capable of supporting life.
The planet was discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which first began a mission in 2009 to see how many Earth-like planets are scattered throughout the Milky Way, Space.com reports. It does this by noting drops in brightness that occur when a planet crosses its host star (or stars). Three transits are normally needed to properly identify an exoplanet.
“It’s a bit curious that this biggest planet took so long to confirm since it is easier to find big planets than small ones,” said co-author Jerome Orosz, an astronomer at San Diego State University, in a statement. “But it is because its orbital period is so long.”
Kepler had to stop its hunt for exoplanets in May of 2013 because of mechanical problems, though scientists are still sifting through the massive amounts of data it gathered. It has found over 2,200 alien planets so far and began a new search in 2014.
Kepler-1647b is “the tip of the iceberg of a theoretically predicted population of large, long-period circumbinary planets,” added co-author William Welsh, from San Diego State University.